Just about the time I got to thinking about building a new Hells Bay skiff, I got to thinking about Walkers Cay, in the northern Bahamas…and all the folks, fishes and high adventure that it presented to me during 16 seasons of filming thereabouts. Unbidden, the thought; why not build a skiff with the pedigree to cross the Gulfstream on her own bottom, make it to Walkers, and relive some of the most shining times I’ve known?
Lay her out, “Old School”, like the skiffs of my younghood. Wait for a calm, September 4:00 AM, enlist my old Compadre, John “Dozer” Donnell, and strike for Walkers. Many of the places he and I fished 27 years ago may not have been fished since! Heck, in my mind, I was there!
All boat dreams begin with a mission, and now I had one. “Dozer” said, “Yes…Of course yes!” I was ready to build a boat.
I chose the Marquesa hull, the largest of Hells Bay’s technical poling skiffs. Built light enough I reckoned she would draw 8 inches or so and provide a good ride, on a good day, across the Stream to the Bahamas. I also reckoned the Marquesa would work along the Florida Keys, the Everglades and Mosquito Lagoon.
The layout was the easy part. It was all in my head…even the most minute detail was ready to go on paper, and so it did…and when Hells Bay Boatworks owner, Chris Peterson, let the process out of the starting gate, it didn’t take long to blend skiff guide green gel coat with state of the art materials and produce the skiff that had rattled around my brain just six weeks before.
With the slightest wiggle, she slid off the trailer, shattering the greasy, calm, watery surface at the ramp and the maiden voyage began. A single step off the trailer onto her bow cap let me know how level and corky she was. The clutch of the Levorsi controls slid into gear…the stern crouched from the torque of the 115 Merc XS Sport and she readily answered the helm through the pilings and out into the Indian River. ‘Not even on plane yet and I was shot full of love!
North along the River and east through Haulover Cut into Mosquito Lagoon and north again along the Intercoastal Waterway … Diane and I found ourselves tying up to an eatery overlooking the Lagoon. The skiff drew a crowd before the painters were cleated! Inside I fielded a number of questions about the skiff before and during dinner and couldn’t help but brag about the 52mph top end with Diane and I aboard!
The next morning, a fishing buddy and I got the Marquesa up in the shallows to see how she fished. I was pleasantly surprised with her draft, how easily she poled and how her bow found the breeze…not to mention, she was a lucky boat, first time out. We released a number of redfish and trout and have done well on several trips since.
“Dozer” and I haven’t fished the Marquesa together yet but the Walkers Cay trip is still fomenting each time we speak, and those calm, September nights are not that far away. It could happen!